Book Review: Christian Worship Hymnal (WELS)

This a review of the Christian Worship Hymnal Pew Edition only. I do not have, nor have I consulted the voluminous supporting material for this hymnal such as: Hymnal Gift Edition, Psalter, Accompaniment for Hymns, Accompaniment for Services, Accompaniment for Psalter, Easy Hymn Accompaniments, Altar Book, Agenda, Our Worth to Him: Devotions for Christian Worship, or Christian Worship: Service Builder.

Christian Worship is the new hymnal put out by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. For those who belong to the LCMS, this hymnal is the same size as Lutheran Service Book except that it is roughly ¼ inch thicker.

Hymnal’s Contents:

The hymnal’s front matter includes Church calendar information, a Three-year and One-year Lectionary, Psalms, three Divine Services, along with full services for Matins, Vespers, and Compline. There are abbreviated daily devotions for the hours of the day (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Vespers, and Compline) as well as a daily lectionary with a separate schedule for reading the psalms. There are also five pages of personal prayers. 

The hymnal includes six rites: (1) Holy Baptism, (2) Service of Word and Prayer, (3) Christian Wedding, (4) Christian Funeral, (5) Corporate Confession and Absolution, and (6) Individual Confession and Absolution.

The rites are followed by the Athanasian Creed and Luther’s Small Catechism.

The hymns start with #301 and conclude with #958

The hymnal’s back matter includes acknowledgements and four indices: (1) sources, (2) metrical, (3) tunes, and (4) first lines and titles.

Commentary of Front Matter and Indices:

The Psalms in Christian Worship all contain a musical refrain. Most of them also contain a recommended Psalm Tone. Some of the Psalms are set entirely to music, such as Psalm 42, which is set to the popular musical number As the Deer by Martin Nystrom. I love that this hymnal presents the psalms in this way, but it comes at a significant cost, namely, not all the psalms are found in the hymnal—there simply isn’t enough space to do so. The only psalms found in the hymnal are those that are appointed for Sundays. For a small representative sample, the hymnal includes only seventeen of the first forty psalms. The psalms included among the first forty are numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, and 40. 

The service of baptism shows up twice in the front matter. I’m not sure why that is, but the longer rite is the second one presented. The baptism service has different rubrics for the baptism of infants and the baptism of adults. Within the LCMS at least, questions are asked of the infant, but the congregation and sponsors speak and answer on the child’s behalf. This kind of questioning of the infant is absent from the baptismal rite in Christian Worship. I also noticed that the making of the sign of the cross upon the forehead and heart occurs after the baptism itself, rather than before (which is how it is in LSB).

The Divine Service Settings are easy to follow. I am under-qualified to evaluate them in any meaningful way as my knowledge of the history of liturgies and Divine Service Settings is entirely lacking. With that said, I did notice that in their Divine Service settings, the Nicene Creed begins with the words “We believe” rather than the words “I believe.” The “We believe” accurately reflects the Nicene Creed’s Greek origins. I like that this change was made in Christian Worship.

The Athanasian Creed is prefaced with a sizable chunk of text that explains why it is named the Athanasian Creed and the purpose of its composition. There is also a paragraph that seeks to explain the difficult statement near the end of the creed that makes it sound like we adhere to works righteousness. Namely, those words “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.” I think this is a helpful explanatory text, as I have adopted the pastoral practice of including a separate bulletin insert every Trinity Sunday with a similar explanation to help avoid scandal among my own people.

The inclusion of Luther’s Small Catechism contains two oddities that I cannot account for. First, in the Fifth Chief Part the Office of the Keys questions precede the “What is Confession” questions. I don’t know enough about the textual history of Luther’s Small Catechism to explain this, but it was printed in an order I was unfamiliar with as a life-long LCMS member. Second, in the section titled “Christian Questions” there are twenty-three questions, rather than twenty. I am aware that the Christian Questions and their Answers has uncertainty regarding whether or not Luther actually wrote them, but I have never seen twenty-three questions. These questions are listed as being “Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament” (p. 295). It strikes me as a bit dishonest to include the final three questions which are: “#21 What can you do if you are sick and are unable to come to Holy Communion? #22 When is the proper time to do this? #23 Why would you want to do this?” I say it’s dishonest because while the answers are theologically sound and certainly in accord with Luther’s own writings it’s dishonest to say that he “prepared these questions for those who intend to go to the Sacrament” (unless there is a textual history that I am unaware of). I think those final three questions should have included an editor’s note indicating their uncertain (unprecedented?) textual nature.

The “Sources Index” contains the authors of any given hymn’s text as well as authors of any given hymn’s tune and it does not distinguish between the two. I don’t like this. Thus, you might conclude that Christian Worship has five hymns written by Melchior Vulpius, when in fact he’s the author of five hymn tunes rather than five hymn texts. It was confusing. If they lumped these two groups into one index to save space, I humbly suggest that using fourteen pages for the Three-year lectionary was a bit excessive— a tighter and more creative presentation of the Three-year lectionary could have freed up the pages necessary for an additional index.

Commentary on Hymns:

Now we’ve come to the hymns. I went through the entire hymnal and highlighted every hymn that is NOT included in Lutheran Service Book. Due to translational issues and my own ineptitude, I am sure to have made a few mistakes, but I identified 215 (+/- 10) hymns that are not in LSB. I have eight takeaways regarding the hymns.

  1. The Newcomers: The LSB has zero hymns by Keith & Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, Michael Schultz, or Laurie Gauger. Christian Worship has eighty-four: thirty-one by Schultz, thirty by the Gettys, sixteen by Townend, and seven by Gauger.
  2. The Old Timers: Christian Worship has more Paul Gerhardt hymns (5), more Latin hymns (3), more Martin Luther hymns (2), more Charles Wesley hymns (2), and more Nicolaus Selnecker hymns (1) than LSB. 
  3. Jaroslav J. Vadja: Christian Worship has four Vadja hymns that are not found in LSB even though LSB has more Vadja hymns than Christian Worship. The Vadja hymns not found in LSB are #330 Peace Came to Earth, #390 Jesus, Take Us to the Mountain, #651 In Hopelessness and Near Despair, and #755 A Life Begins, a Child Is Born.
  4. Translational Differences:Christian Worship changes a lot of thees and thous to yous and yours. Beyond that, some hymns I had to do a “double take” on to make sure they were the same thing because the translational variance was of such a large degree. For example. “By All Your Saints in Warfare” (LSB 517–518) is titled “By All Your Saints Still Striving” (CW 892). Also, “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty” (LSB 901) is called “Open, Lovely Doors” (CW 912). I will refrain from passing judgment on the translations themselves, but some of the differences were eye-popping.
  5. Same Words, Different Tune:In Christian Worship the Franzmann hymn “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” is set to the tune Jerusalem, whereas LSB has it set to the tune Wittenberg New. The Gerhardt hymn “If God Himself Be for Me” is set to the tune Valet Will Ich Dir Geben in CW, but in LSB it is set to Ist Gott Für Mich. And the Gerhardt baptism hymn “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized” is set to the tune Augustana in CW whereas it is set to the tune Nun Freut Euch in LSB.
  6. Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayer: These classic prayers by Luther are set to music and constitute hymn #782 in Christian Worship. The tune is titled Jonathan’s Tune and is very singable. I like this and am anticipating a new bedtime prayer routine for my children. 
  7. Christmas: The reason I bought this hymnal is because I’m always on the lookout for more Christmas songs. Christian Worship has twelve Christmas hymns that are not found in LSB, including “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen.” 
  8. Thaxted: My favorite hymn in LSB is #941, Stephen Starke’s versification of the Te Deum laudamus titled “We Praise You and Acknowledge You O God” set to the tune Thaxted. Even though Christian Worship includes eleven Starke hymns, this is not one of them, and that makes me very sad because Christian Worship is poorer for it. I won’t pretend to know how a hymnal is assembled and who decides what gets put in or taken out, or what role copyright holders play in such things, but it is unfortunate this hymn is lacking. With that said, the tune Thaxted does appear one time in Christian Worship as an alternate tune to Bernard of Cluny’s “Jerusalem the Golden.”


Christian Worship is, in my estimation, a fine hymnal. I am an LCMS pastor, so I am unlikely to ever use the rites or Divine Service Settings. I did not scour the pages with a fine-toothed theological comb, but I have always found Northwestern Publishing resources to be of high theological quality. I would like to reiterate that I know almost nothing about liturgical development. I know even less about the history of hymnals in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. In fact, I don’t even know the name of the hymnal that Christian Worship is replacing. I should also add that I am not a musician. I am an adequate singer and can plunk out the melody line of most hymns (though never correctly the first time). Evaluate my review accordingly.

 I am grateful to own this hymnal and to have it as a resource. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and will be used by me in personal and home devotions with some regularity. 

CHRISTIAN WORSHIP: Hymnal  Pew Edition. Authorized by Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Waukesha, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021. 1000 pages. $24.00.